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Part II: What do you think of Zoom University?

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On Monday, Frankly Speaking had the Stanford community weigh in on the question: What do you think of Zoom University? We received a record number of replies; we published some on Wednesday, some today and will publish some more early next week.

Zoom learning varies considerably by teacher and course design. This quarter, I was lucky to have some flexibility over coursework, so I chose courses taught by professors that I knew and trusted or professors who seemed kind and understanding on the first day. Choosing compassionate instructors was important to me because learning with decreased student discourse opportunities (as is the case for me with Zoom) means I’m doing more independent work, which feels less satisfying. So, at least I’m happy with my teachers 🙂 However, I’m nervous about summer and fall quarters because I don’t have as much flexibility in coursework. I’m worried that I’ll be placed with instructors who ignore the humanistic parts of learning — particularly because I have to take some engineering classes, and I’ve heard from The Daily and other students that engineering professors have been less understanding this quarter. 

— Victoria Docherty, graduate student

I really sympathize with the undergrads, especially the freshmen, who haven’t even experienced a full year at Stanford. In addition to the normal stress associated with the first year of college, there is the stress of sudden evacuation, separation from friends, books, resources available only on campus, and the stress of being thrown into a scary situation with family at home. And then they are expected to complete the term remotely, from all over the world, in different time zones, in some cases with limited internet bandwidth and hardware. Zooming may have been fun for the first few weeks, but now seven weeks in, it’s exhausting. And who wants to stare at themselves six hours a day online? I don’t believe we (as faculty and staff) can give the students the quality instruction they get in person. I’m working more than full-time to assist students with research needs because they are under enough pressure — they don’t need more. I don’t think the students are getting their money’s worth.

— Anonymous staff member

I can’t speak positively about this quarter given Stanford’s refusal to discount tuition. According to a Daily report (3/28), Provost Drell noted that discounting tuition would most benefit the wealthy: “and that didn’t quite feel right.” Additionally, Stanford reasoned that its costs continue. If Stanford is worried about disproportionately benefiting those with the most financial security, it should look in the mirror: Stanford holds the fourth-largest university endowment in the country at $27.7 billion (Aug 2019). That doesn’t quite feel right. To the second point: The cost may remain the same, but the product is fundamentally different. Stanford online is not Stanford in-person. What is it that we truly pay for? Textbooks, lectures and problem-sets — or relationships, experiences and engagement? I argue for the latter, which has almost been eliminated in an online setting. Stanford’s proposed solution was to extend leniency in declaring a leave of absence for spring quarter. What about the students who are carrying debt or those who care about delaying three months of future revenue? Instead, Stanford’s real strategy was to employ a politically correct logical fallacy as an “acceptable” excuse for not doing the right thing. Pitting the poor against the wealthy doesn’t substantiate why Stanford didn’t reduce tuition, and it certainly doesn’t help fight COVID-19. Truth be told, I paid it — the opportunity cost was too high. But stop lecturing me on how power dynamics run society while overcharging me because you know you can.

Dante Gaudet, undergraduate

It would be great if the school allows graduate students to be part-time during the autumn and winter quarters and allows us to pay special tuition rates that originally apply to only graduating students in their last quarter. It would be one way to help us maximize in-person opportunities next year when the classes are in-person again hopefully. 

— Anonymous graduate student

Despite my best efforts, online education is a very difficult context for delivering the quality experience my students deserve. I don’t think it’s sustainable beyond the emergency of spring quarter. I feel guilty that families are struggling to pay for an educational experience that I feel is simply not up to the high standard they have a right to expect from us.

— Anonymous staff member

It is incredibly difficult to navigate these new waters, and it’s vital to not adhere to old ways of thinking, old measures of success and achievement.  What Stanford must determine is how best to be more lenient in its expectations and structure while remaining a top-tier institution. The new expectations, each unique, need to evolve for the entire Stanford community — students, faculty and staff.  And some departments — like those teaching art, lab sciences, etc. — will be even more severely impacted by physical limitations. The coming quarter will be turbulent as we feel to find our way. Stanford, as a university, should provide as much support as possible for its people to forge ahead.

— Frank Lloyd, staff member

The Daily is committed to publishing a diversity of op-eds and letters to the editor. We’d love to hear your thoughts. Email letters to the editor to [email protected] and op-ed submissions to [email protected]

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